Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is unlike any other place you’ve ever been. The Sonoran Desert, Rincon Mountains, and Tucson Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop for the gorgeous Saguaro cacti. You won’t forget your time in Saguaro National Park!
Saguaro National Park Overview
Saguaro National Park is named after the Saguaro cactus that grows only in the Sonoran Desert. The park was actually established to protect these mighty Saguaro Cactus, and the park is home to an estimated 180 million Saguaro cacti.
The park offers many activities, use this guide to Saguaro National Park to help plan your perfect desert escape!
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The park is located in southern Arizona and is split into two distinct districts, the 16,476-acre Rincon Mountain District and the 25,391-acre Tucson Mountain District.
- Rincon Mountain District – 3693 S. Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, Arizona 85730
- Tucson Mountain District – 2700 N. Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 85743
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How to Get to Saguaro National Park
The closest airport to Saguaro National Park is Tucson International Airport, which is located 8 miles south of downtown Tucson. This airport is served by most major airlines and all major rental car agencies are available as well.
You will need a rental car during your visit to Saguaro to get around the park.
There are no shutter services available at Saguaro National Park.
In the Tucson Mountain District (west), the park is open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset daily (Actual times vary throughout the year).
In the Rincon Mountain District (east), the park is open to vehicles from 5:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. in the summer, and 5:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. in the winter.
You can walk or bike into the park 24 hours a day.
Cost: The entrance fee is good for 7 consecutive days in the park
- Vehicle: $25
- Motorcycle: $20
- Individual: $15 per person
- You can purchase your entrance pass here.
Best Time of Year to Visit Saguaro National Park
During the summer months, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are prevalent problems.
- June – September: Summer is not a great time to visit Saguaro National Park primarily due to the soaring temperatures and crazy heat. Temperatures often reach above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
- September – November, March – May: Temperatures remain scorching during the spring and fall months in the Sonoran Desert. You can expect temperatures to reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon during these months.
- December – February: This can be an excellent time to visit Saguaro, arguably the best time to visit this National Park. Although crowds will be heavier, Saguaro does not typically see the volume of the more popular Arizona National Parks. The cooler temperatures of 70 degrees make this the perfect time of year to visit Saguaro.
Both Districts are open on all holidays except Christmas.
Operating Hours: Daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Inside the visitor center you can find information about the park and activities to do, as well as a book store where you can purchase items such as books, post cards, posters, Mata Ortiz pottery, a taste of the desert and much more!
- Rincon Mountain Visitor Center (East Saguaro) – 3693 S Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, AZ 85730: At this visitor center in Saguaro East, you will find a bookstore, maps, restrooms, and plenty of information stations. This visitor center is also the starting point for the scenic auto/bike tour around the Cactus Loop Drive.
- Red Hill Visitors Center (West Saguaro) – 2700 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743: This visitor center is a great place to learn about the park and the perfect place to start your visit in Saguaro’s west district. At Red Hills Visitor Center you’ll learn more about the unique geology of the Tucson Mountains. You can get park maps, general information, and hiking guides at this visitors center.
Places to Stay
While there are not any lodging options located inside the park, there are plenty of options for places to stay that are close to the park.
- Hotel McCoy – 720 W Silverlake Road, Tucson, Arizona 85713: This trendy, retro 60-inspired hotel is just 3 miles from the Tucson Museum of Art and only 19 minutes and 15 miles from Saguaro National Park. This hotel offers an outdoor pool and free daily breakfast perfect for fueling up before heading to the park.
- Candlewood Suites Tucson – 1995 W River Road, Tucson, Arizona 85704: If you’re on a budget this is a great option for a relaxed hotel that features all suites. It offers a gym, a BBQ area, and an outdoor pool. At only 16 minutes and 8.4 miles from the park, you really can’t go wrong at the Candlewood Suites.
- JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa – 3800 W Starr Pass BLVD, Tucson, Arizona 85745: If you’re looking for a bit more luxury, just 23 minutes and 12 miles from Saguaro, consider staying at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort. This property features multiple dining options, 3 golf courses, and a full-service spa.
What to Take to Saguaro National Park
Make sure to wear close-toed hiking boots, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Things to Do
Hiking at Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park offers a ton of options for hiking, whether you are looking for easy nature trails, scenic loops, or a challenging day hike.
During the summer months, it’s important to hike early in the day. Drink plenty of water while hiking, 1 liter per hour, per person in your party.
Here are some of the most popular hikes at Saguaro National Park:
Freeman Homestead Trail
The Freeman Homestead Trail is a 1.1 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located in Saguaro National Park. This trail is flat and great for all skill levels, it’s perfect for an easy family hike.
- Distance: 1.1 miles
- Rating: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 108 ft
Loma Verde Loop
This easy 3.7-mile hike is great for all skill levels and it features beautiful wildflowers and gorgeous desert views.
- Distance: 3.7 miles
- Rating: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 157 ft
Hope Camp & Ridgeway Trail
You’ll find this easy 2-mile hike at the Loma Alta trailhead, this is where you’ll take the Hope Camp Trail. This interesting hike is on an old homesteading road that was used for cattle driving. It’s good for all skill levels and you can even see waterfalls from the Ridgeway Trail during the wetter months of the year.
- Distance: 2 miles
- Rating: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 400 ft
Wild Horse To Garwood Dam
This easy 3.9-mile hike features a beautiful cactus forest that actually inspired the park’s creation. Not only that, but you’ll get incredible views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
- Distance: 3.9 miles
- Rating: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 331 ft
Tanque Verde Ridge Trail
This hike is fully customizable, it is a 20-mile difficult out and back trail. However, you can go any length of the trail to find the perfect hike for you! Hike 6.9 miles to the Juniper Basin campground. Or you can choose 11.5 miles to the Cow Head Saddle. Another great option is going 2.6 miles to the crested Saguaro overlook.
- Distance: 20 miles
- Rating: Difficult
- Elevation Gain: 5,597′
Take The Cactus Forest Loop Drive
You’ll love this scenic drive through one of Arizona’s most beautiful desert landscapes. Make sure you have your camera ready as you take the twists and turns of the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. This 8-mile loop drive has several viewpoints and trails that you can hike. Take in the stunning beauty of the cacti with mountain backdrops and gorgeous desert flora.
Drive Bajada Loop Drive
This 6-mile loop drive will take you through the beautiful Tuscan Mountains. There are many scenic overlooks, short nature trails, and picnic areas. You’ll also need a 4 wheel drive for this scenic drive! While on the Bajada Loop make sure to check out the signal hill petroglyphs, the hike is only .8 miles round trip.
Visit The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – 2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743.
Located in West Saguaro, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum features the wildlife and plants that live in this beautiful desert. A combination museum and zoo, the museum has programs and activities for every age! Animals who call the museum home include javelinas, wolves, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.
Camping in Saguaro National Park is not for the faint of heart, staying in the park is only for those willing to hike a minimum of 4.5 miles to one of the 6 designated campgrounds within the Saguaro Wilderness. You’ll need a backcountry permit to stay overnight, the fee is $8 per campsite, and you can buy a permit here. Campgrounds at Saguaro include:
- Manning Camp
- Spud Rock Spring
- Happy Valley Saddle
- Juniper Basin
- Grass Shack
- Douglas Spring
Although the Sonoran Desert is foreboding there are several animals that call the park home. In fact, many of the animals who call the park home are unique and unusual. These animals include roadrunners, Gila monsters, kangaroo rats, rattlesnakes, and javelinas. Javelinas are small pig-like creatures that call Saguaro and the Sonoran desert home. For a greater chance of seeing javelina check out the Javelina Rocks along the Cactus Forest Drive (mentioned above).
Saguaro is home to several poisonous snakes, including rattlesnakes and scorpions. Watch your step and never put your hands or feet near holes or under rocks.
Saguaro is not a very pet-friendly National Park.
Pets are permitted on paved roads, interpretive trails, and picnic areas.